- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

As schools reconvene across the nation and the November elections approach, House Republican leaders are planning to start pushing a number of education-related initiatives this week.
The first item of business on the Republicans' back-to-school agenda is a bill the House will consider today, which would make permanent certain education provisions in the president's tax relief package signed into law last year.
Greg Crist, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said the bill is part of an effort "to help parents pay for sending their kids back to school."
"It's a coordinated effort to make sure we're putting education out there so that it's part of what's being talked about," added Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
The bill would increase permanently the amount parents can hold in education savings accounts, from $500 to $2,000 annually, and for the first time allow their use for elementary or secondary tuition, not just for college, or for related expenses for public, private or religious schools.
Republicans on the Education and the Workforce Committee also plan to vote tomorrow on a bill that would forgive federal student loans for college graduates who become teachers, committee spokesman Dave Schnittger said.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said yesterday that the president's tax cut should instead be used to "dramatically expand the number of qualified teachers and after-school programs.
"That's where the need is, and that's what we ought to be using the money for."
Tomorrow, the House Ways and Means Committee will consider a bill that would provide low-income families a tax deduction of as much as $3,000 for use on kindergarten through 12th-grade education expenses, including private or religious school tuition.
"We're responding to two problems," Mr. Schnittger said. "One, the lack of choice that low-income families have when it comes to education and two, the growing teacher shortage."
The Republican education push also plays into upcoming elections.
"We believe that good policy can produce good political results at the same time," a Republican leadership aide said.
Democrats balked at the Republican effort.
"The policy the Republicans are pushing through the Ways and Means Committee is bad, and the timing is even worse," said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, and ranking member of the Education and the Workforce Committee.
"While state and local education budgets are being battered by the economic slump, the Republican leadership continues to divert precious public resources to subsidize private school tuitions."
Mr. Kennedy said that funding increases for education "are the lowest they've been since Newt Gingrich" and that senators will "welcome the opportunity to debate these matters on the floor."


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